As coronavirus cases continue to rise, the number of hospitals and health systems requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees is growing.

At least 175 hospitals and health care systems nationwide have shifted from simply encouraging staff to get vaccinated to requiring the shots.

Exemptions will be granted for medical or religious reasons.

And earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced that approximately 17 million workers at health care facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Locally, health systems and hospitals that require or will require employees to be vaccinated include Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network and WVU Medicine, and Pennsylvania required its 25,000 employees in state-run health care facilities to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 7.

Both Canonsburg Hospital and Uniontown Hospital-WVU Medicine are among those requiring the shot.

Washington Health System does not require employees to be vaccinated, but strongly encourages them to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Sept. 30 deadline for AHN’s 21,000 eligible staff to be vaccinated is approaching.

“It is abundantly clear, however, that the single most important thing an individual can do to protect themselves and others, and to help us bring this difficult pandemic to an end, is to receive the vaccine. We expect all of our employees to heed that call, and the new requirements we are putting in place are intended to help us achieve that goal,” said Dr. Brian Parker, AHN’s Chief Quality and Learning Officer.

Unvaccinated AHN employees are required to wear a face shield at all times while working in a hospital or clinical setting, in addition to wearing the face masks that are required of all employees and visitors at the network’s facilities.

Unvaccinated Highmark Health employees, too, will be required to wear masks at all times when working in the organization’s facilities.

WVU Medicine requires employees of its health system facilities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31.

Albert L. Wright, Jr., president and CEO of WVU Health System, said last month, “We’re doing this because it is the right thing to do. We are the state’s leading health care provider and largest employer, and we have a higher obligation to our patients as well as to each other. I want WVU Medicine hospitals and clinics to be as safe as possible for our patients and staff. A fully vaccinated workforce will help ensure that safety.”

Wright said the vaccinations also could help prevent a situation from developing where several hundred employees at hospitals and health systems, which are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, are out due to COVID.

“We know one thing for certain: the vaccine is extremely safe and effective,” said Wright.

More than 50 prestigious national health care organizations have advocated that all health professionals be vaccinated, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, the American College of Surgeons and the Department of Veteran Affairs.

“The AHA supports hospitals and health systems that adopt mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for health care personnel, with local factors and circumstances shaping whether and how these policies are implemented,” the organization wrote in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines protect health care personnel when working both in health care facilities and in the community. They provide strong protection against workers unintentionally carrying the disease to work and spreading it to patients and peers.”

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